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Chapter Two: Problems with God

Section 9: Miracles and prayer

Miracles and prayer are proof not of God's existence but of gullibility and coincidence.

The Raising of Lazarus (detail) by Caravaggio

God and miracles

God theoretically transcends the universe - he exists both within and beyond it. One way he makes his presence known to the world is through miracles - events that contravene natural laws.

Creation, the Flood (Genesis chps 6-7), the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-30) and the raising of Lazarus from the dead (pictured; John 11:1-44) are examples of miracles performed by God or Jesus in the past. Catholics believe that even today saints are able to perform miracles on God's behalf. Jews, Protestants and Muslims, however, believe that the only true miracles are those narrated in scripture.

Some believers use the word "miracle" to explain an event which does not contravene natural laws. For example, the finding of a survivor days after an earthquake kills thousands is defined as a "miracle".

This is an interesting perspective on God's mind and power. Either God's power is unlimited and by choosing to save only one survivor, he also chose to let thousands die in the same "miracle". Or his power is limited and he could only save one life out of thousands - in which case the miracle is not very impressive.

Whichever perspective it is viewed from, God's interest in miracles, or his ability to perform them, has definitely faded over the years. In the beginning, alone or with his family, Yahweh was miracle-mad. First came the Creation. Then for a while he couldn't stop. He caused the Flood, the destruction of the Cities of the Plain and, while the Jews were in Egypt, waters running blood, plagues of boils and locusts, death of the first-born and so on.

He didn't stop when the Jews were back in Palestine. He parted the river Jordan, pulled down the walls of Jericho and stopped the sun and moon in their tracks (technically, he actually stopped the earth's movement so that the sun and moon appeared stationary).

Eventually, however, God stops playing with his new toy and is more inclined to work

Problems with God

Chapter One showed us that if there is a God, we cannot be certain about his nature. So let's look at the question from another perspective: Is there a form of god that can exist?

We start by looking at the god described in the Bible and Quran; does the information there support or reject the idea of God? Then we look at general concepts of God and see if they make sense.

2.1: In the Bible
Do inconsistencies in the Bible make it irrelevant?

2.2: The Jesus myth
Biblical evidence suggests that the Son of God never lived

2.3: Other scriptures
What do other scriptures tell us about God?

2.4: Forgotten tongues
Why can God not speak modern languages?

2.5: Male order
God's fondness for men

2.6: Compassion and bloodlust
God claims to be compassionate but frequently causes pain and death

2.7: Disease and disaster
Why do they happen?

2.8: Omniscience and free will
One or the other, not both

2.09: Miracles and prayer
How does God make his presence known?

2.10: Eternal life
Do we really want to live forever?

2.11: Alien beliefs
Do they know God on Betelgeuse?

2.12: Summary

Finished this chapter? Move on to

Chapter 3
God the creator?

God does not have to be the creator of the universe; in some religions the world comes first and then the gods apprear.

In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, however, God is the creator of the universe. How does he do it?

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through followers than to perform the miracle himself. Instead of global floods we have Elisha multiplying a widow's oil or curing deadly pottage (2 Kings 4:38 - 41; it's a kind of soup). And some miracles - like the destruction of a harvest through rain and thunder and the feeding of a hundred men with twenty loaves, are not the hallmark of a deity on top form.

Some of God's earlier form comes back with Jesus. It starts with the Cosmic Conception, then 30 years later there is the feeding of the five thousand, the raising of the dead and the turning of water into wine and so on.

A rational look at miracles

There are three ways of looking at miracles. We can accept that they occurred as described - God really did manipulate nature. Or we can assume that something natural occurred but which has gained a supernatural perspective in the generations since it happened. Or we can assume that none of the events occurred.

The last explanation - that none of the events occurred - seems unlikely. To take one example, archeologists have identified the site of ancient Jericho and discovered the remains of walls that were demolished in historical times. If these were the walls referred to in the Bible, we have to choose whether they were destroyed by God or men. Without proof of God's intervention, we have to assume a natural - in this case human - cause.

Remember that the fact that one event in the Bible has historical roots does not prove that all events recorded in the Bible (or any other scripture) have equally historical roots - nor does it prove any miracle.

And that is a major stumbling-block for believers. For miracles to be accepted, God's handiwork must be both observed but proved. Occam's Razor (always choose the simplest explanation) tells us that any event which can have a natural cause must be considered as a natural event. Most Biblical miracles can and should be interpreted this way. Thus if the first-born in Egypt really died, the cause of death was probably a naturally occurring virus and if the Nile ran with blood it may have been the result of a slaughter of animals upstream.

Any miracle must clearly be proved to transgress natural laws. But the only evidence available for any miracle is found in scripture or claims by believers; in other words it is hearsay and unreliable. Evidence that a certain place existed or a certain calamity occurred shows no indication of any supernatural activity. And the fact that no miracles have been proved in modern life (despite the claims of the Catholic church, there is no proof that any saint has ever performed any miracle) suggests that older miracles are no more than myth. Belief in miracles is evidence of nothing more than gullibility.

The powerlessness of prayer

Prayer has two elements. One is talking with / being with / allowing oneself to be overcome by or become one with God. This aspect of prayer requires no miracles, since it occurs only within the mind of the person praying. To the outsider, prayer is no different from talking to oneself. No matter how good the person praying feels, even if he or she believes they have been transported to another level of existence, it is still a phenomenon which occurs only in that person's mind and has no meaning for the rest of us. pic source to be confirmed

The second element of prayer is related to miracles. It is asking God to do something. Sometimes that request appears to be granted, sometimes it appears to be refused. Believers point to "successful" prayers as proof of God's existence - he intervened and performed a miracle - and explain "unsuccessful" prayer as evidence that God didn't think the request was appropriate. (Of course God does not give a reason for his refusals.)

Most prayers of request are relatively mundane - for a sick person to be made well or for an evil person to come to harm, for a country to prosper, for the weather to produce good crops and so on. They seldom ask God to contravene natural laws - and because no natural laws are broken, there is no evidence of God's intervention. Correlation is not cause. This means that the granting of refusing of prayers is no different from the tossing of a coin. A prayer that has been granted is nothing more than coincidence.

In other words, miracles and prayer are proof not of God's existence but of human gullibility and coincidence.

For a detailed look at a specific miracle - Jesus' death and resurrection - click Where did Christ go?. For more discussion of prayer, click A conversation with ourselves.

Chapter Two: Section 10 Eternal life

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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.

What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?

"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"

Check the answer

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